Late last week, the MEL staff made a remarkable (and somewhat baffling) discovery about men’s fashion and the rarefied world of male stock photography modeling.
The revelation came while we were discussing the meteoric rise of the Man Looking at Other Woman meme, which by then, was already well beyond the saturation point and in the meta-meme phase — making it impossible for any of us to develop a grand unifying theory of the meme or write about it a new or unique way.
Our interest in the meme did illuminate something strange and beautiful, however: Stock photo sites are filled with photos of men acting sleazy, and in them, they’re all wearing the same fucking shirt.
It has checks (often blue ones).
And wearing it means you’re a total douche.
The path to enlightenment started with us trying to find other photos of the male model from the Other Woman meme. Sure enough, the model in question is the star of a short photo series about a man ignoring his girlfriend/fiancée/wife to catch a glimpse of some other woman. (Author’s note: Classic.)
Here he is, for instance, eyeing a woman in a red dress while in the middle of proposing:
Entertained and curious, we widened our search to all stock images of men with wandering eyes. There were lots, and we noticed a striking similarity—every one of these dirtbags is wearing the same damn shirt.
Below, we see some poor bastard coming home from work, only to find he’s been cucked by some blue-check-wearing fuckboy.
The next photo, however, turns the previous scenario on its ear, portraying Mr. Checkered Shirt as a brazen Lothario who brings his mistress into the home he shares with his wife or girlfriend.
Here he is embracing his new girlfriend right in front of his ex.
If nothing else, you have to appreciate the courage of these men.
It takes a certain kind of asshole to cuddle with his girlfriend while making a move on a different woman sitting on the same couch.
And snap buttons don’t make him any better, as evidenced by this evident philanderer:
There also is no honor among men in patterned shirts.
Different kinds of dirtbag. Same dirtbag shirt.
Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. These aren’t all the exact same shirt, if you want to be pedantic about it. They span a breadth of checkered and checkered-adjacent shirt patterns that include gingham, madras and tartan.
But spiritually speaking, they’re identical—all variations on the same “blue, gray and brown stripes” motif that’s the pinnacle of uninspired everyman fashion.
Either way, it looks like a stock photo agency raided my wardrobe.
The blue checkered shirt is so ubiquitous, in fact, that it’s become a meme of its own. On Instagram, @thatjcrewginghamshirt has garnered more than 17,000 followers for documenting blue-and-white checkered shirts in the wild.
As fate would have it, MEL staff writer Tracy Moore ran into a bartender last week wearing that exact shirt, and took the opportunity to ask him about why it has such wide-ranging appeal.
“This is the dude shirt, dude,” Travis the Bartender told her. “I get it from Banana Republic, Gap or J.Crew. I’ve worn this one for years. In six months, when it wears out, I’ll buy another.”
Travis the Bartender’s reasoning is as sound and eloquent as it is tautological—dudes wear checkered shirts because we’re supposed to. That style of shirt wouldn’t be available at all major men’s clothing locations were that not the case. It’s a shirt made for dudes, and we being dudes are therefore compelled, if not outright required, to buy it.
The eminence of the dude shirt is self-evident.
The question, though, remains why checkered shirts carry such a dirtbag connotation in the realm of stock photography, with Shutterstock and the like implying they’re only for dastardly scoundrels.
My thesis: The phenomenon is a commentary on the corrupt natures of ordinary men. The message isn’t that men in blue-checkered shirts are more liable to cheat. The message is that men everywhere are vile. They just all happen to be wearing blue checks.